SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (16-19 overall, 3-6 Big West), coming off a Big West series win over UC Davis inside Baggett Stadium, continues a stretch of playing 18 of 23 games at home, hosting defending Big West Conference champion Long Beach State (16-21, 3-3 Big West) for a three-game series inside Baggett Stadium (cap.: 3,138).
Coach Larry Lee's Mustangs and the Dirtbags of eighth-year head coach Troy Buckley square off Friday at 7 p.m. in a nationally televised game (ESPNU), followed by a 6 p.m. contest Saturday and a 1 o'clock finale Sunday. All three games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 1280 with Chris Sylvester providing the play-by-play. Links for live stats and audio and video streams are available on the baseball schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
ESPNU's broadcast of Friday's game will be handled by Mike Morgan (play-by-play) and Gregg Olson (analyst). Morgan calls college football, basketball and baseball games for ESPN/SEC Network while Olson played 14 Major League seasons for nine teams (1988-2001) and is the all-time saves leader for the Baltimore Orioles with 160.
After losing three of four games in the College Baseball Classic hosted by the city of Surprise, Ariz., to open the season, defeating Gonzaga 8-7 in 10 innings on Scott Ogrin's home run, Cal Poly earned victories over No. 4-ranked Arkansas and Michigan in the seven-team Tony Gwynn Legacy on the last weekend of February.
Alex McKenna's ninth-inning single to right-center field snapped a 3-3 tie as Cal Poly edged Arkansas 4-3 and sophomore catcher Myles Emmerson knocked in four runs with three singles and a triple while freshman right-hander Darren Nelson pitched seven scoreless innings of one-hit baseball in the Mustangs' 8-1 triumph over Michigan.
Cal Poly was 3-4 after the Tony Gwynn Legacy and has been within one game of the .500 mark on four other occasions over the last seven weeks, but has been unable to get over the hump. The Mustangs' only two series wins so far this season are a three-game sweep against Dartmouth and two games to one over UC Davis.
The Mustangs have earned a pair of walk-off wins, scoring the winning run on wild pitches each time. Junior catcher Nick Meyer scored on a wild pitch in the 10th inning for a 5-4 triumph against New Mexico on March 12 and Cal Poly beat San Diego State 5-4 on a walk-off wild pitch as the Aztecs were trying to intentionally walk Colby Barrick in the ninth inning.
Cal Poly closed the month of March and opened Big West play at CSUN, dropping 5-3 and 10-7 decisions before posting a 5-4 triumph by scoring twice in the eighth inning. The Mustangs ventured to Big West favorite Cal State Fullerton the next week and fell 5-1, 5-4 and 6-3.
Last week, the Mustangs rallied from an 8-0 deficit to beat CSU Bakersfield 11-8, then won two of three Big West games at home against UC Davis, earning 8-7 and 7-4 victories before falling 16-10. Cal Poly hit a season-high .386 in the series, Nick Meyer going 7-for-14 and Elijah Skipps belting two home runs, including a grand slam in the middle game. The Mustangs erased an 8-3 deficit with six runs in the seventh inning Tuesday at Pepperdine before eventually falling 11-9.
Lee welcomed back 19 letter winners this spring, including eight position players who made 25 or more starts in 2017, and nine pitchers, six of whom pitched 25 or more innings. In addition, pitchers Jarred Zill and Thomas Triantos, both of whom underwent Tommy John surgery a year ago, returned this year.
"We are strong up the middle with Nick Meyer behind the plate, Kyle Marinconz and Scott Ogrin in the middle of the infield and Alex McKenna in center field," noted Lee. "All have lots of game experience and each one of them has improved on the defensive side. You want to be strong up the middle and we are. They all understand how to play their positions."
McKenna, a first-team All-Big West outfielder a year ago after hitting .360 with 11 doubles, five home runs, 13 steals and 31 RBI as a sophomore, anchors the Mustang outfield this spring after a solid summer in the Cape Cod League with Yarmouth-Dennis. McKenna was Cal Poly's leadoff hitter over the final 43 games of the 2017 season and produced a team-leading 30 multiple-hit games, including 11 three-hit contests. He also led the Mustangs with 10 multiple-RBI games.
"McKenna is coming off a very good season for us, and playing in the Cape allowed him to see power arms on a daily basis, which has really helped him develop as a hitter," said Lee. "Hitting from the leadoff spot is where it starts, and Alex has the ability not only to hit for average, but also for power. He is the leader of our outfield group and continues to improve on the defensive side."
A second-team All-Big West honoree as a freshman in 2017, sophomore Bradlee Beesley started in six different positions, including 24 games at third, and hit .305 with 13 doubles, three triples and 14 RBI, mostly from the No. 2 spot in the order. He is a mainstay in right field this spring and, after a .139 start in the first nine games, has elevated his batting average 131 points to .270.
Senior outfielder/designated hitter Colby Barrick sits atop all Mustang hitters with a .351 average while McKenna, 6-for-13 in the CSUN series, 5-for-12 against Cal State Fullerton and 6-for-15 versus UC Davis, has compiled a .333 mark. He also tops the squad in doubles (9) and multiple-hit games (16). Freshman first baseman Tate Samuelson is hitting .314 with eight doubles, four home runs — two in the Cal State Fullerton series — and a team-leading 26 RBI.
Junior catcher Nick Meyer is 11-for-27 over his last six games to raise his average to .302 while junior shortstop Kyle Marinconz also is hitting .302 with four home runs and 22 RBI, elevating his average 64 points over the last seven weeks, including his third career four-hit game at CSU Bakersfield.
Hitting .246, next to last in the Big West, nine games into the season, Cal Poly has hiked its team average to .293 by hitting .310 since and including a doubleheader sweep against Pacific on March 3.
Long Beach State opened its 2018 season by losing six of its first eight games and the Dirtbags have been playing .500 ball since. Long Beach State owns series wins over Tulane, Cal State Fullerton and, last weekend, at CSUN, winning the opener 5-2 and the finale 3-2 while falling in the middle game 2-1. In the finale Sunday, the Matadors had a runner at third base with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but the Dirtbags turned a double play on a strong throw from the outfield. Catcher Chris Jimenez threw the retreating runner out at third to end the game. That was the seventh Matadors baserunner Jimenez threw out in the series, as CSUN went 0-for-5 in stolen base attempts and also had a runner picked off first base by the freshman backstop. The game-ending double play was the third turned by the Dirtbags last Sunday.
Thirty-seven games into the season under eighth-year head coach Troy Buckley (244-196, Santa Clara '90), Long Beach State is hitting .229 as a team with 34 steals in 50 attempts, a 3.92 staff ERA and a .972 fielding percentage with 38 errors. First baseman Jacob Hughey is the top Dirtbag hitter with a .350 average and 12 RBI, followed by center fielder Clayton Andrews (.293, four doubles, four triples, 20 RBI) and second baseman Jarren Duran (.273, four doubles, three triples, two home runs, 12 RBI).
The Dirtbag pitching staff is paced by southpaws Zak Baayoun (6-2, 3.19 ERA) and Clayton Andrews (3-6, 2.70 ERA) along with right-hander Tyler Radcliffe (1-4, 4.50 ERA).
Long Beach State has 17 lettermen returning off last year's 42-20-1 squad that finished first in the Big West at 20-4 and qualified for the Long Beach Regional, finishing 4-1 and losing two of three games to Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regional, also at Blair Field. Among the returnees are four position starters and 10 pitchers.
The Dirtbags have claimed nine Big West titles (ending a nine-year drought in 2017), and have made 22 NCAA regional appearances and four trips to the College World Series, the last in 1998.
Cal Poly and Long Beach State have met 146 times on the baseball field since the series began when both teams were California Collegiate Athletic Association members back in 1957. The Dirtbags hold a 94-52 advantage. Long Beach State was 16-2 in a six-year stretch against the Mustangs until Cal Poly won two of three in 2009, its first series win at Blair Field since 1997, and also won two of three in 2010 and 2015 in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly is 19-52 against Long Beach State since the Mustangs moved to Division I prior to the 1995 season.
Larry Lee is 13-32 against Long Beach State while Troy Buckley is 14-7 against Cal Poly.
Long Beach State won two of three games against Cal Poly last year and swept the Mustangs in 2016, both series at Blair Field. The Dirtbags defeated Cal Poly two games to one for four consecutive years until the Mustangs won two of three in 2015 at Baggett Stadium. Former Dirtbags in the Major Leagues include Jason Giambi, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki and Jered Weaver.
Buckley, a 10-year pitching coach for the Dirtbags before he was hired as head coach prior to the 2011 season, previously served three years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Santa Clara. He was a coach in the Montreal Expos organization from 1996 to 1997. Buckley was a ninth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1989, spending three years in the Twins organization, and was 1988 West Coast Conference Player of the Year and a second-team All-American as a catcher at Santa Clara.
Cal Poly will play 16 games against 2017 NCAA Regional participants this spring, has a pair of home stands of at least seven games, 30 home games in all and will play four contests against Pac-12 schools, including a three-game set against UCLA inside Baggett Stadium in late April.
A year ago, the Mustangs won 20 of their last 32 contests, and captured seven of eight conference series en route to a second-place finish at 16-8. Cal Poly swept just one series last season -- at UC Santa Barbara in the penultimate series of the year -- and won eight of its 15 series overall. The Mustangs, however, were just 12-20 against non-conference opponents and won only one of the seven non-conference series -- against Wichita State.
Cal Poly has had just four losing seasons since 2000 and has reached the 30-win mark 11 times this century. The Mustangs have won 161 of their last 220 home games for a 73.1 winning percentage. Cal Poly, which earned NCAA regional berths in 2009, 2013 and 2014, captured its first Big West championship in 2014 and has four second-place finishes, four thirds and six fourths since becoming a member of the conference in 1997. Cal Poly has finished in the top four of the Big West standings 13 times in Lee's previous 15 seasons with the Mustangs. Cal State Fullerton is the only other Big West team that can make the same claim.
All 56 Mustang games last spring were played in the Golden State. This season Cal Poly opened the campaign with four games in Surprise, Ariz., visited Nebraska for a four-game series last month and travels to Hawai'i for a three-game Big West series in early May.
Over the last six seasons from 2012-17, Cal Poly has won 210 games, the third-highest total among the 24 California schools with Division I baseball programs. Averaging 35 wins per season during those six campaigns, the victory total is seventh among 46 schools in the NCAA's West Region. In addition, from 2012-14, Cal Poly averaged 41 wins a year with 123 victories, more than any other Division I team in California, and the Mustangs have averaged 32 victories per season under Lee's guidance.
Lee (499-383-2) earned his 400th win March 7, 2015, at Pacific and surpassed Berdy Harr (297-249-6 from 1973-83) as Cal Poly's winningest head baseball coach during the Pacific series in 2011. Lee's previous 15 clubs at Cal Poly averaged 32.5 wins per season. Lee earned 460 wins in 16 seasons at Cuesta College and, in his 15th season at Cal Poly, notched his 460th Mustang victory on March 13, 2017 against Gonzaga.
Next week, Cal Poly visits Santa Clara on Tuesday and hosts UCLA of the Pac-12 Conference for a three-game non-conference series Friday through Sunday.